Published: 31st December 2019
Meet Usija Nachiyaar, the 19-year-old who had to lose her voice to find her music
Usija Nachiyaar, a singer, lost her voice as a child. However, she taught herself how to play the veena and 18 other musical instruments. Now she is an accomplished vainika.
Standing in front of an audience and performing music is what Usija Nachiyaar has known her entire life, having been a part of more than 500 shows. At a very young age, she forced herself to hit notes even most adults would not dare to as all her aspirations for her future depended on her musical career- on her voice. However, one day she woke up and realised everything she had worked towards had disappeared. She had lost her voice.
“My mother warned us that straining a little child’s voice would not do us any good, but the rest of my family just ignored her. When I was 12, I lost my voice. I spent my entire life singing and suddenly one day I couldn't even speak,” she said.
Usija started performing professionally with her family when she was five. “People told me that I had the knowledge of music (shruthi) by birth. So I was forced to sing at a very young age. Sometimes when female singers were not available, I had to perform their parts as well, without a break. I would perform 20 days a month,” she said. Thinking back to all the time she spent on the stage, she narrated the struggles she went through. “People didn’t understand that I was just a kid. Most groups understood my vocal range but some were adamant and forced me to hit the original singers’ notes,” she said. She felt that it was her duty to sing in events and earn money to support her struggling family. However, the more people booked her for events, the more she strained her voice until she could not sing anymore. Everyone thought that her life as a singer was over.
Usija Nachiyaar (Pic: Debadatta Mallick)
Although her voice was never the same again, she managed to turn her life around through hard work. Today, seven years later, she is a BDS student at Ragas Dental College and an accomplished vainika. Apart from the veena, she plays around 20 musical instruments, including the kanjira, kazoo and harmonium. She also teaches people music at her uncle’s music school, M R Music Academy occasionally. “I try and make time for everything that has helped me grow,” she said when she was asked how she balances her education and her profession.
She also considers the veena a major part of her life. “My mother has always loved the veena and she introduced me to the instrument. She wasn't allowed to learn how to play the veena when she was younger because her family didn’t want her to. So she really wanted to see me play,” she said. Although the veena is considered a “feminine” instrument because of goddess Saraswati, most vainikas are men. In the future, she wants to get more women interested in the veena.
“I managed to master the Raguvamsa Sudha from the raagam Kadanakuthuhalam. It's one of the hardest things to master. Only professionals play it but that was the first raagam I taught myself and everyone was in awe,” she said. Before she knew it, she was getting booked to play the veena. “I started my career as a singer but all of a sudden I was known as the little girl who played the veena. I've been playing the veena in concerts for the past four years.”
Now, she has also worked on numerous jingles for advertisements. She has worked on movies like Kaththi, Varmam, Kaaki Sattai and Angusam. One of her dreams now is to participate in Indian Idol. “I was one of the participants in Airtel Super Singer when I was about 12 but I had to drop out because of the strain on my vocal cords. I want to finish what I started by being on Indian Idol,” she said. She believes that the veena is a lost form of art and wants to do everything in her power to revive it. “I want to teach people how to play the veena. If somebody can benefit from my lessons, then the purpose of my life becomes complete,” she said.